A unique generation is coming of age in America. They've been called many things, millennials, boomerang kids, generation Y … we are calling them Generation Next. They are the 42 million young people aged 16-25 who were born after the Cold War, weaned on technology, came of age rocked by 9/11 and who now face a future marked by complex global challenges.
Veteran journalist Judy Woodruff, in partnership with MacNeil Lehrer Productions and supported principally by The Pew Charitable Trusts, is traveling the country interviewing young people - at colleges, in urban, suburban and rural settings, at workplaces and at home as part of a year long multimedia project that explores the attitudes of the next generation. It's called Generation Next: Speak Up. Be Heard.
Just weeks into the project, what she has heard gives us reason to believe this cohort has a unique contribution to make to American public life. "The history that's going to be written about my generation is going to be about how we've responded to unbelievable challenges," observed 25 year-old writer Anya Kamenetz. "The issues that face our country: energy dependency, the budget situation, the retirement of the boomers … it's going to be people my age who have to find the solutions. And I believe we will."
It is this confidence and optimism that distinguishes Generation Next from their more rebellious and pessimistic predecessors, Generation X. Raised by their baby boomer parents to feel special, important and valued regardless of their achievement and told that anything is possible, Generation Next has come of age in an affluent world brimming with information and choices, be it the dozens of coffee drinks at Starbucks, their many friends on MySpace or the thousands of job listings on the internet. However, for many young people, the wealth of information and choices can be too much of a good thing.
Technology has expanded Generation Next's horizons, making them both well connected and world wise, but it has also increased their stress level. Peer pressure increases because, instead of a close circle of a few friends, members of Generation Next stay in contact with scores of friends at a time via cell phones, text messaging and social networking sites like MySpace or Facebook. "Because this generation is connected 24/7, they are never able to truly shut down. And they have become so accustomed to the safety of socializing behind an online persona, that in-person communication is more unnatural," said Jane Buckingham President of The Intelligence Group, one of the foremost market research and trend analysis firms focused on this generation.
And the worldliness of Generation Next comes with its own costs. "They have been raised with high expectations, and told to 'follow their passion,' but that is a difficult thing to figure out," explained Buckingham. "It's hard to know what you're passionate about at 42; but it's really hard when you're 15. They are handicapped by the amount of choices that are out there and are not sure which way to turn."
Statistics show that members of Generation Next take longer to leave home, marry, choose career paths and start families. To understand why, Judy Woodruff goes direct to the source - young Americans. Woodruff's findings will be broadcast in a series of reports on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, beginning later this year, and in an extended documentary to air on PBS in January 2007.
But Generation Next is more than just a TV special - it is a multi-media, multi-platform project that will inform and engage young and old alike via traditional media such as television, radio and newspapers and via the project's robust new media components: discussion forums, blogs by the Generation Next team, original video recorded by young Americans at our interactive web kiosk and an online reporter's notebook of Judy Woodruff's thoughts from the road.
Generation Next's partners in this effort include some of the nation's leading media outlets, foundations and an independent opinion research group.
NPR will produce a series of radio reports profiling members of "Generation Next;" USA Today will report on this generation in both their print and online media; Yahoo! will host a series of conversations between members of Generation Next and political leaders in a feature called "Talk to Power." Plus, original documentary films created by young people for the internet-based FYI - Film Your Issue project will be presented on the Generation Next website, www.pbs.org/newshour/generation-next.
"Our main objective is to find out what young people think, to create a profile of the next generation, and to provide current decision-makers with better information about them," said Woodruff. "We want to help everyone understand the views of young people. And just as important, we want young people to know their opinions will be heard by decision-makers in business, politics, education and the media."
Traditionally, politicians have paid less attention to young people because they were unreliable voters. But in 2004, turnout increased more among 18-24 year olds than among any other age group. Generation Next is "an untapped resource out there, of people who want to be engaged in politics," reports Anya Kamenetz. But she adds, "I believe it is politics that isn't speaking to them." In an effort to bridge that divide, Judy Woodruff will present questions and comments from the young people she meets and put them in front of America's current influential leaders - be they political, business or cultural leaders …. via the "Talk to Power" conversations hosted by Yahoo!.
"We are delighted to support this unique initiative to illuminate the views of 'the next generation'," said Rebecca Rimel, president and CEO of The Pew Charitable Trusts. "Today's young people will shape the future of America. It is critical that we understand their priorities, ideas and aspirations."
A representative survey will complete the project's examination of the views and values of Generation Next. The Pew Research Center is conducting a survey of 16 - 25 year olds and will announce the results in the fall. The questions posed by the researchers will be complemented by Judy Woodruff's conversations with the young people she meets on her journey and via an interactive web kiosk on board the Generation Next RV. So viewers will see and hear evidence of the Pew survey results via candid answers from real-life people: young adults who will share insights into their lives by answering hard but important questions about their parents, their friends, their politics, their aspirations.
Production of this new project began in June 2006. Among the cities on Judy Woodruff's itinerary are Fairfield, CT; New York, NY; New Holland, PA; Chicago, IL; Columbus, OH; Detroit, MI; Los Angeles, San Diego and Palo Alto, CA; Montgomery and Birmingham, AL; Atlanta and Columbus, GA; Leoti, KS; Indianapolis, IN and Washington, DC.
MacNeil Lehrer Productions produces The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, which airs weeknights on more than 300 local PBS stations, as well as other programs for public, commercial and cable television. MLP also produced complete broadcast coverage of the 2004 Democratic and Republican national conventions for PBS. Other recent television programs produced by MLP include Free Speech, an extended conversation between Jim Lehrer and Ben Bradlee about Bradlee's career and current issues facing journalism, the award-winning Do You Speak American?, Robert MacNeil's cross country trek to discover why American's speak the way we do; The First Lady: Public Expectations, Private Lives, a look at the expectations of the role of the modern first lady; Debating Our Destiny, Jim Lehrer's look at presidential and vice presidential debates with candidates; LadyBird, a profile of LadyBird Johnson; Via Dolorosa; Empire of the Bay; and The Story of English. MLP is also the leading force behind the By the People: America in the World civic engagement project.
The Pew Charitable Trusts serves the public interest by providing information, advancing policy solutions and supporting civic life. Based in Philadelphia with an office in Washington, D.C., the Trusts will invest $204 million in fiscal year 2006 to provide organizations and citizens with fact-based research and practical solutions for challenging issues.
The Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan "fact tank" that provides information on the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. It does so by conducting public opinion polling and social science research; by reporting news and analyzing news coverage; and by holding forums and briefings. It does not take positions on policy issues.
Generation Next Partners:
Since its launch in 1970, NPR has evolved into a leading media company, primary news provider and dominant force in American life. In partnership with more than 815 public radio stations, it attracts 26 million listeners to the nearly 150 hours of broadcast programming it produces and distributes weekly. A privately-supported, non-profit membership organization, NPR is also active in digital media through www.NPR.org, its successful NPR Podcasts, two 24/7 NPR channels on Sirius Satellite Radio and five 24/7 multicast music channels for HD Radio, a technology in which it has led industry research and development. NPR Worldwide serves nearly 150 countries with a full schedule of programming offered through terrestrial, satellite and digital radio; national cable, and American Forces Network.
USA Today is the nation's top-selling newspaper. It is published via satellite at 36 locations in the USA and four sites abroad. With a total average daily circulation of 2.3 million, USA Today is available worldwide. USA Today is published by Gannett Co., Inc. (NYSE: GCI). Included in the USA Today brand are USATODAY.com, an award-winning news and information site on the Internet; USA Today Sports Weekly, a weekly magazine for baseball, professional football and NASCAR enthusiasts; and USA Today Live, the television arm of the USA Today brand that brings the spirit and quality of the newspaper to television.
FYI - Film Your Issue is an ambitious, unprecedented outreach to all U.S. residents 18 to 26 - including 7 million college students on 1,200 campuses -- to create 30-to-60 second "issue films" on any issue as a way to engage young people in pressing social issues and add their voice to the public dialogue, via film.
The Generation Next RV was donated by the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA). Based in Reston, Virginia, RVIA is the national trade association representing more than 550 manufacturers and component suppliers producing approximately 98 percent of all RVs and conversion vehicles manufactured in the United States.